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Interview with Michael Sherman, AICP, Vice Chair and International Liaison Officer — Humanist Alliance Philippines International


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/08/02

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When it comes to religion or irreligion, what was your family background in it?

Michael Sherman: I was raised Roman Catholic in the American south. Mom was raised southern Baptist and dad was raised Catholic. So I actually had influences from both denominations; however we attended Mass regularly and only went to Baptist church when we visited friends who were Baptist. I college I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of latter day saints (Mormons)

Jacobsen: How does personal background feed into this as well?

Sherman: My journey to humanism and agnosticism took a number of years. So as you will see by my answer to the first question I was involved in two cults, the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church. My move toward humanism was also influenced by a 3rd cult that I was involved in. This cult was called “Straight Incorporated (Straight).” Straight Inc. was a very controversial behavior modification program that touted itself as drug rehabilitation program for kids and young adults that promised to “fix” your child from drug use and to change any adolescent behavior that the parents did not like. (i.e. growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s) Straight was actually a money making organization that over its 17 year history brought in over $100,000,000 paid for by parents and insurance companies. The “therapy” offered by Straight was totally provided by children and former clients who were themselves still children. There were almost no medical professionals working in the organization and those that were provided no therapy. Think of Lord of the Flies. The treatment methods that were used were modeled after North Korean thought reform and brainwashing techniques of American GI’s during the Korean War. This included housing us in large metal buildings up to 350 kids sitting in chairs for up to 20 hours a day, depriving us of sleep, food, water, medical care, schooling and any actual human care. We subjected to beatings, harassment, rape, group verbal attacks, endless group thought reform, constant singing and physical intimidation. Our minds were never or rarely left to think on our own. It is very difficult to explain how it was in the program unless a person actually witnessed or lived it. For the most part the organizations higher ups were Christians of some sort and while Christianity was not the main emphasis, we did sing Christian songs. (For more information on straight, please google “straight, inc.” This was my first questioning of religion and Christianity. I remember thinking if these people are Christians, why are they treating us like this?

I moved away from Mormonism and ultimately left the church as I began to study and learn more about the church, its leaders and its teaching. I am somewhat of a liberal/progressive and the Mormon Church definitely leans hard to the right and has strong authoritarian beliefs.

Jacobsen: How has religion influenced you (me) personally?

Sherman: I went through the motions as a child of being religious but I really can’t say that it influenced me for the good. My parents taught me how to be a humanist by their examples; however they did not call themselves humanists. Both my parents are practicing Christians. As an adult, religion has influenced my attitudes and beliefs in a way that has made me want to have nothing to do with it. I see in the American fundamentalist religions nothing that would want me to be a part of it and I see nothing of the teachings of their Christ. Although, I still read the Sermon on the Mount and have been able to glean some good from that. Sadly, the passages in those sermons are not practiced by many American Christians.

Jacobsen: When did humanism become a practical reality for you?

Sherman: I think I have been a humanist longer than I knew what defines a humanist. By education and practice I am a geographer and city planner. This career choice has allowed me to practice humanism daily. In the later parts of my career, much of my focus as a planner has been on grass-roots, bottoms up planning efforts like the development of neighborhood plans, development of community garden programs, outreach to minority communities and underserved areas. So humanism became a practical reality for me in 1987 at the start of my career as a city planner, although at that time, I had no idea what humanism was.

Jacobsen: How did you find the humanist community?

Sherman: I was officially introduced to humanism by social networking and the Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI)

Jacobsen: What were some of your early involvements in the community?

Sherman: My early involvement in the humanist community as a humanist took place in June 2016 when I attended the Asian Humanist Conference in Manila which was sponsored by HAPI.

Jacobsen: How do people tend to come to the humanist community and become involved early on in their work with it?

Sherman: Humanism fulfills a need for many people to do work for the betterment of humankind as well as for non-human animals. The humanists that I know are all in for humanism with a great passion. The members of HAPI and the groups / organizations that we align ourselves with are leading by example.

Jacobsen: How does HAPI provide for the needs of the community in the Philippines?

Sherman: Responding to that question could take all day as HAPI is the leading organization of humanist efforts in the Philippines. Our programs focus on the betterment of all people in the Republic of the Philippines. We do this through our Nutri-Camp (nutrition campaign), SHADE (Secular Humanist Advocacy Development & Education) program, ARK (Acts of Random Kindness) project and the way our members live their daily lives. Some of the most amazing and selfless humans I have met are members of HAPI.

Jacobsen: What makes a good humanist?

Sherman: The first thought that comes to my mind is a person who practices humility and kindness in their daily affairs. A person who recognizes that it is possible to do good in this world without a belief or need for a god or book of rules (bible). I think the optimal word here is “practices”. Humanism is not only a belief system but also a way of acting and interacting with this world. Humanism is a belief system in action/

Jacobsen: How can people become involved in humanism?

Sherman: Start with being the change that you want to see in this world. Practice kindness. Practice humility. Follow the golden rule, treat others as you would want to be treated. Again, my belief is that humanism isn’t just a way of thinking; humanism is a way of action, a way to live one’s life. Also, I would recommend that someone interested in humanism find a group of like-minded people. Come visit our webpage. We are always looking for new members who are interested in learning more about humanism and those who are confirmed humanists and practice a humanist lifestyle

Jacobsen: How can people become involved in humanism?

Sherman: Action. Be the change you want this world to be. Humanism starts with individuals.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Michael.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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